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GATEWAY TO MOUNTAIN RAILROADING Christiansburg Hill BY STEVE BARRY/PHOTOS BY THE AUTHOR


MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN about the “Pokey,” the former Pocahontas Di- vision of Norfolk & Western (and suc- cessor Norfolk Southern) in West Vir- ginia. But there is some mountain railroading outside of the mountain state on the same rail route and within easy striking distance of attractions such as the Virginia Museum of Transporta- tion nd the O. Winston Link Museum. The gateway to the truly spectacular mountain railroading of the old N&W is Christiansburg Hill. Located in Vir- ginia about 30 miles west of Roanoke (the city that is the heart of the N&W) the hill is the first major obstacle en- countered by trains leaving the Star City. Fairly plentiful trains and easy access make this a pleasant place to watch and photograph trains.


The east slope of the hill favors after-


noon westbounds for a variety of rea- sons. First, westbounds are working hard up the grade on the east slope. Ad- ditionally, the tracks run almost due north-south between Elliston and Shawsville, making eastbounds diffi- cult to shoot for most of the day. And fi- nally, the former N&W is paired with the former Virginian through this area, and while it’s not a hard and fast rule you’ll usually find more westbounds on the N&W and more eastbounds on the Virginian. The N&W has historically been a


coal hauler, and if you are in the area for any length of time this will be read- ily apparent. Coal empties head west from Lambert’s Point near Norfolk, heading back to the Pocahontas coal fields. You’ll also see general merchan- dise trains and auto racks, and since this is a part of the recently clearance- enhanced Heartland Corridor you’ll find stack trains are now in the mix as well. A good strategy (especially if you


don’t have a scanner and need to wait for the trains to come to you) is to set up base east of Elliston near Singer, where the Virginian crosses over the N&W on a through truss bridge. To reach this lo- cation go east from Elliston on U.S. Highway 460 (exit 128 off of I-81 will give you quick access to Elliston from the Roanoke area). After crossing the


OPPOSITE: Norfolk Southern C40-9W No. 9429 rolls eastbound on the former Virginian as it approaches the bridge over the Norfolk & West- ern at Singer, Va., just east of Elliston on November 13, 2010. ABOVE: NS (PRR) SD60M No. 6772 blasts out of the west end of Montgomery Tunnel on November 13, 2010. The climb up Christiansburg Hill is complete and the slope’s namesake town is just ahead.


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